Myrtle Beach SC boat captain shares stories of life on the water

The way Doug Allen talks, it would be impossible to know that working as a boat captain was a late career for him. He knows all along Myrtle Beach’s Intracoastal Waterway – where local celebrities and politicians live, the best places to eat, and the most secluded beaches to stop for an afternoon.

Many of his clients love his fledgling business, he says, a fact he backs up with the number of them who have booked with him again and again. When he takes people, he starts by asking them what they want to see from their trip. Sightseeing? The beach? A pub crawl?

The goal is to make each trip as pleasant as possible for its customers. The name of his boat is even Makin M’emorys.

“If anyone in this business is just making money, they’re in it for the wrong reasons,” Allen said. “The very first thing I do when people get on my boat is say, ‘This is your boat. What do you want to do? Tell me. I will get there if I can. It’s about making their day enjoyable. Not about me.

Captain Doug Allen organizes boat tours along the Intracoastal Waterway, giving guests a unique look at the Myrtle Beach area. August 8, 2022. JASON LEE JASON LEE

His trips are so popular that he’s even had a client he calls “Dracula” book with him three times, despite the fact that all of Allen’s trips are, well, during the day.

“He looks like Bela Lugosi,” Allen said, referring to the actor best known for playing Dracula in the 1931 film of the same name. “He actually has fangs. He actually glued them on or whatever. …He doesn’t come dressed like Dracula, but he has the teeth.

Captaining charter boat tours is still a relatively new career for Allen, who started using an online service a year and a half ago to generate customers for his business, Allen Adventure Charters. The service, GetMyBoat, bills itself as Airbnb. Customers can book online or through an app, scroll through options for boat rentals and charter trips, like choosing between beachfront condos on Airbnb.

Allen said he liked the app’s ability to help him grow his own business. Even though it’s still a relatively new service — there are only 10 listings in the Myrtle Beach area — it doesn’t have much trouble keeping busy.

His minimum travel time is three hours and he typically ends up with two four-hour boat rides each day he works. He charges $150 an hour and can carry up to 10 people on his 22-foot Stingray. For a four-hour trip, it might cost just $60 per person.

“A year and a half after I put my boat on (the app), there were three or four more boats, so it started a bit of a new niche,” he said.

Beautiful waves and rough seas

Despite his best efforts, Allen admits that not all water travel is perfect.

He starts each trip by going over safety procedures and fitting life jackets to all young children.

The biggest rule of all? Always listen to the captain. Still.

Allen said his number one job is to keep his passengers safe, and sometimes something happens on the water and there’s little time to react. Not listening can mean putting yourself or others in a bad spot.

“Whatever the captain says, you do it, and you do it without asking questions. You do it immediately,” Allen said. “I’m not trying to scare anyone, but the captain is God on the water, and you never question the captain.”

Captain Doug Allen drops anchor near the Calabash, North Carolina waterfront, just off the Intracoastal Waterway. Retired from the corporate grind, the captain uses the booking service to generate customers for his service. August 8, 2022. JASON LEE JASON LEE

Usually, on this front, everything goes well. The biggest problems come from mismanaged expectations, Allen said.

Clients on a fishing trip sometimes end up catching a lot of fish, but nothing worth eating. Building an appetite without showing anything because it frustrated some of his former clients, Allen said. For many of the anglers he takes, however, it’s less about the catch and more about the activity. These tend to be the more experienced ones anyway, who understand the unpredictability of what they are doing.

Then, of course, there is the rain.

Almost every day during the summer, especially in July, there is a chance of scattered rain clouds and even thunderstorms during the afternoon.

Without warning, a narrow cloud can pour rain onto the boat for a few minutes, soaking the seats.

“I tell them, ‘Look, it’s a boat. You’re going to get wet,” Allen said, warning customers. “On this waterway, you are going to encounter bad waves that can come up over the bow. You might rain on it.

Even with hiccups, Allen said he’s never had a bad client.

“It’s a lot of good people – people who want to get on a boat and don’t have the ability to drive a boat, don’t have a boat to use,” he said. “They’re just arriving on site, and they’re more comfortable with a captain than renting their own pontoon.”

A love of water

Listening to Allen talk about his love of the water and boating, it’s amazing it took him so long to get into it. (His last career before retirement has been working at Pirate’s Voyage in Myrtle Beach, although it’s not exactly the same.)

It’s full of stories of how part of the Intracoastal Waterway was used for drug trafficking in the 1960s. People would put drugs in fish to sneak them into the harbor, he said. said. Or, he’ll talk about a Palmetto tree that for decades had a Civil War cannonball stuck in the middle.

Whenever there are children on the boat, he also lets them “drive” it a little.

“It’s about developing those relationships with the people you date. There’s not a single person I’ve taken yet who hasn’t said when they come back down they’ll call me,” Allen said. “They get my business card. And when they do (come back) they call me and say, “Captain Doug, do you remember me?”

No matter how long it took him to get here, he’s making the most of his time. Not only is he certified to command his own boat, but he is also trained and certified to operate yachts and periodically deliver them to clients.

In the next few months, he said he could even pilot a yacht to the US Virgin Islands.

“I haven’t had a bad day on the water. I don’t care what it is,” he said.

A view of the Calabash waterfront from Captain Doug Allen’s charter boat. The captain uses the booking service to generate customers for his service. August 8, 2022. JASON LEE JASON LEE

But it’s Allen’s young boat captaincy service on GetMyBoat that seems to turn him on the most. He speaks emphatically about his love for meeting new customers, seeing old ones again, and embracing the “service” aspect of customer service to the fullest. His entire career, really, from restaurants to Pirate’s Voyage, was about customer service, he said.

“The businesses I know along the waterway have been phenomenal since COVID because people wanted to go out, couldn’t go to restaurants, couldn’t go to bars, couldn’t shop. So they went to things outside,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for people like me to start a business. … Even after COVID, with new variants and everything going on, no one is quite sure what to do. And it’s a safe and enjoyable option for people who have disposable income to enjoy going out and doing different things than they’ve done before.

Allen enjoys learning more about his clients, their interests and their lives. He pays no attention, however. When asked if he’s ever asked “Dracula” why he has sharp fangs, Allen had a quick answer.

“Hell no,” he said. “It’s private stuff.”

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Chase Karacostas writes about tourism in Myrtle Beach and throughout South Carolina for McClatchy. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2020 with degrees in journalism and political communication. He started working for McClatchy in 2020 after growing up in Texas, where he was signed to three of the state’s largest print media outlets as well as the Texas Tribune covering state politics, environment, housing and the LGBTQ+ community.

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